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Violence greets new Greek efforts to cut public spending

(Shanghai Daily)

08:54, October 20, 2011

An anti-austerity demonstrator runs past a burning newspaper kiosk during clashes with police in Athens' Constitution Square yesterday. Greek anger over new austerity measures and layoffs erupted into violence outside parliament, as demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs and riot police responded with tear gas. Yesterday was the first day of a two-day general strike that unions described as the largest protests in years. The labor action, which grounded flights, disrupted public transport and shut down shops and schools, came ahead of a parliamentary vote today on new tax increases and spending cuts designed to stave off a default that could trigger a crisis in the wider eurozone.

Greak anger over new austerity measures and layoffs erupted into violence outside parliament yesterday, as demonstrators threw stones and petrol bombs and riot police responded with tear gas.

Yesterday was the first day of a two-day general strike that unions described as the largest protests in years. The action, which grounded flights, disrupted public transport and shut down shops and schools, comes ahead of a parliamentary vote today on new tax increases and spending cuts.

International creditors have demanded the reforms before they give Greece its next cash infusion. Greece says it will run out of money in a month without the 8 billion euros (US$11 billion) of bailout money from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund.

Most of the 100,000 or so protesters that converged in central Athens marched peacefully, but crowds outside parliament clashed with police who tried to disperse them with tear gas. Some people set fire to a presidential sentry post.

Nearby, groups of protesters tore chunks of marble off building fronts with hammers and crowbars and smashed windows and bank signs. Many of those involved in the violence wore black clothes with hoods, masks or motorcycle helmets. Vendors sold swimming goggles to rioters, who used them as protection against tear gas.

In Greece's second city of Thessaloniki, protesters smashed the facades of about 10 shops that defied the strike and remained open, as well as five banks and cash machines. Police fired tear gas and threw stun grenades.

All sectors - from dentists, doctors and lawyers to shop owners, tax office workers, pharmacists, teachers and dock workers - walked off the job ahead of a parliamentary vote today on austerity measures that include new taxes and the suspension of tens of thousands of civil servants.

Flights were grounded in the morning but some resumed at noon after air traffic controllers scaled back their strike plan from 48 hours to 12. Dozens of domestic and international flights were canceled. Ferries remained in port as public transport workers stopped work, although they kept buses, trolleys and the Athens metro running to help protesters.

In Parliament, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said Greeks had no choice but to accept the hardship, adding: "We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis. It is an anguished and necessary effort to avoid the ultimate, deepest and harshest level of the crisis. The difference between a difficult situation and a catastrophe is immense."

About 3,000 police were deployed in central Athens, shutting down two metro stations near parliament as protest marches began. Protesters banged drums and chanted slogans against the government and against Greece's international creditors who have pressured the country to push through rounds of tax rises and spending cuts.

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